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O4S occupies offices of Dean Braun and Dean Miller in ongoing protest

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At 9:15 a.m. on Tuesday, May 1, over 30 students filed into Dean of Students Liz Braun’s office on the first floor of Parrish Hall. As Braun rose from her seat, the students — members of Organizing for Survivors, a group that has protested Title IX handling at the college since early March — placed their backpacks on the floor beside them and announced their plans to stay there indefinitely.

It is now over 50 hours later, and neither the students nor their belongings have moved. Dean Braun had picked up her bags and left silently after Shelby Dolch ’21 delivered a statement on behalf of O4S, and by 5 p.m. on May 2, she had not returned to her office. No protesters have received citations.

Dean Braun’s office, its lobby and the hallway outside have been packed with students since. Provisions for the sit-in — coffee, Qdoba catering, Federal donuts, home-baked cakes, carrots — proliferate in the office space; most were either donated by professors or funded by sympathetic alumni through O4S’s Venmo. Associate Dean of Diversity and Inclusion Shà Duncan Smith remained with students throughout the first day until around 2 a.m. and provided Chinese takeout for the group. By noon on the second day, over 175 students had participated in the sit-in and 17 students stayed overnight on the night of May 1.

O4S had not publicized the sit-in outside of private meetings and a Nonviolent Direct Action training meeting, hosted with help from Sunrise, a divestment advocacy group that staged a 32-day sit-in in Parrish last spring. For many, the sit-in is a response to growing dissatisfaction with the administration.

“I feel like there’s a narrative that it’s not that bad or something, that this is the best administration can do, but I’ve really seen how jarring it is to be a survivor and feel like no one will support you and just have so many little things that happen that are institutional mistakes that shouldn’t be there,” Omene Addeh ’21, who participated in the sit-in, said. “I think that the responses we’ve gotten from administration are just not satisfactory to me, and if this is what it takes, I’ll do anything I can to help.”

At 9:55 p.m., as protesters prepared to spend the night, two Public Safety officers took down a banner from the Parrish hallway that read “Accountability looks like Beth Pitts resigning.” Pitts is Associate Director of Investigations for Title IX cases. The officers cited a policy against “singling someone out” on banners and the policy that banners receive pre-approval five days before being hung, though the former policy is not listed in the student handbook and banners are not allowed in Parrish in the first place. They also removed two locked file cabinets from Braun’s office around 11:00 p.m.

“Per the Student Handbook, any language that is, ‘harassing, demeaning or uncivil,’ is grounds for removal. In this and other instances if the banner/poster or chalking specifically identifies a community member by name or position in a derogatory manner, it is considered ‘harassment, demeaning, or uncivil,’” Public Safety Director Mike Hill wrote in an email to the Phoenix.

Other administrators who have called O4S’s methodology adversarial and uncivil include President Valerie Smith, who emailed students, faculty and staff of the college at 12:43 p.m. on May 1, alerting the community that the protesters’ presence in Braun’s office violated school policy because it prevented Braun and her staff from being able to work.

“I will go to great lengths to protect our students’ rights to peaceful protest and assembly,” Smith wrote in an email to the Phoenix on May 2. “However, I can’t support ad hominem attacks on individuals. We are capable of, and willing to allow for, disruptions of activities on campus, but no one should be prevented from doing their job, as our policies state plainly. At present, some of our students are in violation of those policies.”

Smith refers to Pitts, Braun and Dean Nathan Miller, from whom O4S has demanded resignations. At rallies during the sit-in, the group chanted songs such as “Hey hey, ho ho, ______ has got to go,” for each of these administrators as well as for frat housing. But in contrast to Smith’s assertion, O4S and supporters feel their demands are based on professional competence, not personality.

For Dean Braun, O4S asks that she apologizes for her dismissal of student reports and concerns about sexual assault and mishandling of Title IX procedures. They believe that Dean Miller failed to correct violations of Title IX policies during Title IX adjudication processes, such as processes that lasted over 6 months. And they write that Beth Pitts asked victim-blaming questions and “belittled” complainants.

“I am evaluating every allegation that has been brought against members of the staff,” President Smith wrote to the Phoenix.

O4S addressed those who disagree with their tactics at their Speak-Out rally on May 1. O4S core members Priya Dieterich ’18 and Lydia Koku ’18 feel that their movement is not unnecessarily combative towards administrators.

“We think that we’re being disruptive and that we’re engaging in nonviolent direct action and we understand what comes with that,” Dieterich said. “But sitting in is not adversarial, being public about our demands is not adversarial. We push back on the idea that just being loud and angry is necessarily adversarial. We have been committed to working collaboratively, we have not portrayed Val Smith as our adversary. If she’s viewing us as adversaries, that’s a decision on her part.”

“These are controversial demands and because of that people see them and our accompanying tactics as adversarial,” Koku added.

In addition to her update on the sit-in, President Smith’s email included a copy of an email that Dean Braun had sent to O4S members after they met the week previous. O4S had not replied. In the email, Braun states that she will create a “student transition team” that will work with the new Title IX Coordinator and Violence Prevention Educator, that the ad hoc committee on wellbeing, belonging, and social life will release their report on the fraternity houses by July, and that she will oversee the creation of enhanced training during freshman orientation, among other updates.

Yet according to O4S members, Braun’s decision to create a student transition team does not solve the issues they’ve identified.

“[The administration] has to decide that they’re going to commit to shared governance with students,” Dieterich said. “It’s not just occasional committees or occasional invitations to the table, but permanently being at the table. And so I don’t want the narrative to be that everything depends on who those people are, I don’t think that that’s true.”

O4S has consistently pushed back against administrative suggestions about committees and external reviews, asking instead for immediate action. At 8:45 a.m. on the second day of the sit-in, a handful of O4S members walked into a meeting of the same ad hoc committee to which Dean Braun referred in her email to ask questions directly to Deans Braun and Miller.

“How many times will you make survivors retell their stories and retraumatize themselves to committee after committee year after year before it means enough for you to take action?” Anna Weber ’19 said to the committee.

The room was silent after O4S delivered their questions. “I think that’s revealing,” Dieterich said before leading the group out of the meeting.

Afterwards, the protest intensified. At noon on May 2, over 150 students lined the Parrish hallway to hear a “special announcement” that O4S had publicized that morning on their Facebook page. They announced their decision to expand their sit-in to Dean Miller’s office as a result of the events of that morning; they said they had planned to address Dean Miller, but could not, as he was out at lunch.

Both The Philadelphia Inquirer and PhillyVoice published news stories online about O4S.NBC News Philadelphia continuously aired and posted two clips of video coverage of the sit-in. Students in the organization expressed anger after hearing that the college had removed NBC journalists from campus, as multiple students posted on the “Swarthmore Memes for Quaker Teens” page with memes about the “banning of free press” on campus.

“This afternoon, after the news crew was done filming in Parrish, the officers met the reporters and advised them that they should leave, and the reporter complied,” Hill confirmed.“The media on hand were never interrupted during their reporting of the protest. Media access to campus is routinely requested, coordinated and approved through the College Communications office and neither of these visits followed that protocol. We are always happy to help accommodate media requests and do so fairly often.”

One of NBC’s clips was titled “Swarthmore Students Stage Sit-In to Protest Sexual Violence.” Yet what distinguishes O4S’s protests from broader national movements such as #MeToo is its focus on the Swarthmore administration over cultural issues, according to Koku.

“What I’d liked to do, or had hoped to do if we had had more time [and] more energy to do so, was connect with some of the other students, the other schools who are organizing specifically around the MeToo movement,” she said. “We haven’t explicitly discussed MeToo around our own organizing because it is so specific to Swarthmore and to transformative justice, but I think that the same challenges and impediments MeToo has experienced, we also have experiences as Organizing for Survivors.”

For Koku, leading O4S during her last semester at the college, despite the challenges she’s faced — which included the fear that she would not receive her degree — changed how she viewed herself and administrators at the college.

“This has made me find my voice in a more real and authentic way that I didn’t have access to before,” she said. “For me to say … You were complicit in the harm that was caused to me and for that reason I need to fight not only for myself but for every single student who’s gone through a similar experience and every single student that was subjected to those experiences and could be vulnerable to administrative harm.”

Because all of O4S’s original core members except one are graduating seniors, the group made efforts to recruit underclassmen to take leadership for next year. Underclassmen such as Dolch held larger roles in the sit-in than they had previously. According to Dieterich, the timing of the sit-in, two weeks from the end of the year, worried her, but the turnout exceeded her expectations.

“A lot of what we’re doing and my willingness to do it publicly in this way is just that I want the concerns of people who are in my year not to be waited out and not to be buried,” she said.

“Seeing all of the people who came out today and especially the younger students who I haven’t even met yet is incredibly heartening, and I have absolute faith that this is going to keep going next year and we’ll all be watching and phoning it in and helping out as much as we can.”

As of the publication of this article, O4S has not announced an end date or condition for the sit-in.

“I deeply regret any pain or burden students have borne unnecessarily due to our Title IX processes and procedures,” President Smith wrote in her email to the Phoenix.

Dieterich, too, regrets that students will continue to spend time on the movement.

“I wish that the administration had listened all the times that these things had been raised in meetings so that students wouldn’t have had to sacrifice so much of their energy, so much of their time, so much of their creativity and imagination and just all of their capacity and resources,” she said. “That’s on the administration.”

Faculty call on President Smith for Title IX, Dean’s Office reform; O4S ends hiatus

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After temporarily halting their actions on Tues. March 27, Organizing for Survivors, a student group advocating for survivors of sexual violence on campus, officially announced that they are resuming their activism during a community forum on April 4. During their hiatus, O4S members held an information session for faculty and staff on Friday, March 30 at Bond Hall. Not only do faculty and staff carry institutional memory of spring 2013, they also vote on potential amendments to Staff and Instructional Staff Procedures on Sexual Assault and Harassment that appear before the Committee on Faculty Procedures. This semester, faculty have increased their role in advocating for administrative change.

Biology professor Vince Formica, who helped organize the event, estimates that over forty faculty and instructional staff attended, including President Valerie Smith. For about an hour and a half, two O4S members fielded questions posed by attendees about O4S’s demands, their personal experiences, and other topics relating to O4S’s mission. Formica felt that the conversation was productive.

“It was a really good example of civil discourse on campus,” he said.

According to Steven Hopkins, professor of Religion and Asian Studies faculty members found the session to be both informative and moving.

“What they did on Friday was a very stunning and lucid presentation of the demands and the context for their demands,” Hopkins said. “We were impressed by the students’ rationality and the systematic way they brought up the issues at hand. We were all disturbed that things remain really negative.”

In an article published in Voices on April 2, O4S members and other survivors described their experiences with sexual violence on campus and reflected on O4S’s mission.

Since its inception last semester, O4S has consistently aimed to engage with faculty, both through encouraging members to initiate private conversations and by inviting faculty to community events. O4S has called on the college to modify its Title IX hearings process, and to provide more support to survivors during and after Title IX proceedings. The organization has also called for the resignation of Dean of Students Elizabeth Braun, Dean Nathan Miller, and Associate Director for Investigations Beth Pitts.

Faculty and staff are also some of the few remaining people on campus who were present during the spring of 2013, colloquially known as “The Spring of Our Discontent.” That semester, student activism surged around a variety of issues on campus, including mishandling of Title IX cases. The college came under national scrutiny when in April 2013 a group of survivors filed a Title IX complaint and a Clery complaint against the college. The survivors testified that Swarthmore had systematically underreported and mishandled sexual violence on campus. According to Hopkins, who has taught at Swarthmore since 1993, many faculty members that have worked for the college since before 2013 feel that Title IX and leadership issues have not been sufficiently addressed by the college.

“All of us were impressed by students who chose to speak out. What they did was both difficult and risky,” Hopkins said. “I’ve been concerned since the spring of 2013 of issues with proper leadership in regards to Title IX … We felt, as faculty, that things had gotten better … I was concerned about the recent situation because we had expected much more to have happened since 2013.”

Some alumni, too, who attended the college during the Spring of 2013 feel that more needs to be done. Miriam Hauser ’13, who served on the Sexual Misconduct Advisors and Resource Team and was involved in activism, described how disappointed she felt that the issues brought up in 2013 had not been implemented.

“Everyone was stressed and angry, but there was this moment of hope that we were all having,” she said. “These things have been percolating for years but now they’re being voiced in a really public way. There’s no way that action isn’t going to be taken. And then it’s five years since I’ve graduated and the same complaints are being made.”

One issue that O4S has brought up is administrator competency. O4S members detailed various ways in which survivors have felt that Dean Braun, Dean Miller, and Beth Pitts have failed to support to survivors in a collection of letters published in Voices on March 23. In 2013, according to Hauser, similar concerns were raised specifically regarding Tom Elverson, who was quoted in the federal Title IX complaint filed in 2013 as telling survivors of sexual misconduct that he was “first and foremost a DU brother. Second an alum. Third a drug and alcohol counselor. And fourth an administrator,” The Phoenix reported. In addition, Associate Dean of Student Life Myrt Westphal retired. In the official Title IX complaint released in 2014, several survivors describe Westphal as being dismissive their safety concerns.

“Much as I was angry at the time, I don’t think that mostly administrators were being intentionally malicious per se, it was more cluelessness,” Hauser said. “An inexcusable degree of cluelessness. When you’re responsible for students, when you’re dealing with them, there’s safety. It’s completely irresponsible, it’s unethical, not to develop these clear systems.”

The Dean’s office and the Title IX team has had issues with unusually high turnover recently; some of the most prominent examples of this were the departure of Kaaren Williamsen, the former Title IX coordinator, in October 2017, and that of Jason Rivera, former Dean of the Sophomore Class and IC director, in December 2017. In addition, out of 11 people who were hired as Title IX liaisons and resources in 2014 as a response to the Spring of our Discontent, only six still work at the college. In campus-wide emails, Dean Braun and President Smith expressed “mixed emotions” at their abrupt departures. At the external review of the Dean’s office in February that President Smith commissioned, faculty gathered to speak to the reviewers about their views of the Dean’s office, the results of which should be shared with the President in the next two weeks. Hopkins expressed concern about the turnover rate.

“I’m also concerned and confused about the attrition rate of people leaving. Leadership with both the IC and Title IX is central to so many students,” Hopkins said.

Formica feels that many faculty members may be interested in advocating for Title IX reform. “There is a lot of faculty engagement,” he said. Formica himself has attended an O4S community forum and has talked with several activists.

Hopkins was spurred to action after talking with student activists and has pushed for action himself. Hopkins has talked to President Smith to express what he felt were the views of several faculty members.

“I’ve involved myself out of respect for students and out of an understanding of the situation,” he said. “What I did on my own was to write to Val. Val wanted to meet with me and I also expressed that there were a lot of other faculty members that were also concerned. She set up a meeting and we talked very frankly about the issues.”

Though faculty and staff were involved in Title IX activism in 2013, activists at the time were concerned that faculty and staff were ill-prepared to support survivors of sexual assault and that they occasionally caused harm to survivors, according to Hauser.

“We wanted there to be more training systems for the entire campus community — the staff, faculty members — about sexual violence, trauma, harassment, because I think that people were facing lots of insensitivity from administrators and staff, but also from professors … The line I think we heard was ‘we can’t make professors do anything, they’ve got tenure,’ which is just so ridiculous. You can make requests, these are people in your employ and that doesn’t mean you’re going to threaten your job security. But expecting people to go through training and to educate themselves I think that’s something that people working at an educational institution have a responsibility to do,” Hauser said.

Following the events of 2013, the College expanded Title IX trainings for faculty. According to the Title IX Office’s Sexual Harassment / Assault Resources and Education website, these trainings include “an overview of institutional obligations, a review of legislative updates, and a discussion of the training, education and prevention requirements of Title IX.”
Hopkins feels that it is necessary that faculty allies continue to advocate for Title IX reform in the coming weeks.

“Many professors are concerned about leadership issues and support the students coming before the administration,” Hopkins said. “Not every faculty agrees with the tactics being used but we all understand that this a topic of urgency. Practically speaking, we wouldn’t be talking about this if the students hadn’t done this. I think that it’s many years of frustration that’s lead to this moment. It’s not new and so students have carried it over. These are conversations that we all really need to have to heal a lot of wounds that are out there.”

Faculty this year have seemed to play a more active role in advocating for Title IX reform than in the Spring of 2013. For Hauser, faculty play an important role in supporting student activists.

“There were some really supportive faculty members as well [in 2013],” Hauser said. “I don’t know if they were necessarily involved in activism, but there were faculty members who personally gave me encouragement, who told me that I was doing a good job, who supported the work I was doing. For all my concerns about the faculty who weren’t educating themselves, who weren’t involving themselves, there were also faculty members who were, who were always really supportive … The supportive role is really important.”

O4S declined to comment on the event.

1/5 of varsity athletes sign letter in support of O4S

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On March 26, Voices published Swarthmore Athletes’ Statement of Solidarity with Organizing for Survivors (O4S). 112 out of 550 student athletes signed the statement from a variety of different varsity teams on campus, which came out to about ⅕ of varsity student-athletes choosing to put their name on the letter in support. The statement declared student athletes’ support for sexual assault survivors and allies, specifically highlighting O4S’s demands to terminate the frat leases to Phi Psi and Delta Upsilon and democratize the spaces by the start of the 2018-19 school year. The statement addressed the association of athletics with the frats, but maintained that the athletic community still fully supports O4S and all of its demands. This choice to specifically support ending the fraternity leases with Phi Psi and Delta Upsilon has caused discussion among the athletic community, as many members of the varsity sports teams here are either members, or associates of the fraternities. While the statement of solidarity makes a statement on behalf of all members of the athletic community, only ⅕ of Swarthmore varsity athletes chose to sign the statement.

The Swarthmore athletes’ statement of solidarity reads, “this is a statement on behalf of Swarthmore Student Athletes to declare our support for sexual assault survivors and allies as they strive to implement crucial changes in Title IX policies. The athletic community makes up a large portion of the population of Swarthmore College, 36% of the 1,581 students at Swarthmore to be precise. We have survivors among us, and it is time for us to stand up for our teammates, friends, and community. We stand with O4S as they hold Swarthmore’s administration accountable for neglecting the needs and safety of survivors, and pressure the administration to take reformative actions to minimize the possibility of future sexual violence.”

The letter states that the athletic community fully supports all the demands of the O4S, and acknowledges that while the athletic community has strong ties with the fraternities, the athletic community still supports O4S’ demands for Swarthmore College to relinquish its leases with the fraternities.

The statement ends emphatically, calling for athletes to stand up and support survivors.

“We urge all members of Swarthmore’s Athletic community to reflect upon where they stand in terms of support for O4S, and to ask themselves what systems of injustice they are perpetuating through their silence,” the statement reads.

The Swarthmore athletes’ statement of solidarity was written and distributed to varsity teams by Sarah Girard ’19 of volleyball and track and field, Alex Frost ’20 of women’s soccer, Lilly Price ’20 of cross country and track, and Irina Bukharin ’18 of cross country and track. The Phoenix reached out to all four of these student-athletes, but none of them returned requests for comment. One of the four creators said that she did not feel comfortable answering any of the questions without consulting the other three members who helped draft the statement.

Taylor Chiang ’18, a captain of the women’s lacrosse team, expressed solidarity with the movement and illuminated her reasons for signing the letter.

“I signed the student athletes’ letter in solidarity for O4S because personally, I’m in support with all the demands O4S listed. I think bringing awareness and public support for these issues is important. Athletes are a large portion of the student body that frequently take part in the party scene on campus, and I think by signing this letter we can show other students and administration that we are in solidarity and put more pressure for policy changes,” Chiang said.

Members of Swarthmore women’s basketball and softball team who did not sign the statements also gave insight on to their reasoning behind this decision. All four members of these teams who answered chose to remain anonymous, for fear of backlash from the student body. One anonymous female athlete responded, when asked why she did not sign the statement with “I agree with 95% of what was written, but can’t sign something that is going to the administration unless I agree with 100% of it.”

She did not elaborate on what parts she dissented to, but implied that the end to the leases of the fraternity house played a major role in her decision. Most of the female athletes who gave insight on why they did not sign it had similar reasoning; they did not feel comfortable putting their name on something with which they were not fully on board. Another female athlete did not sign it because she frequently goes to the fraternities for social events and felt that signing this statement would make her a hypocrite.

After O4S’s first couple organizing meetings, almost every affinity group, and many student organizations came out with letters expressing solidarity with the movement. Notable letters included those from the Residential Assistants, DPAs, and affinity groups like SASS (Swarthmore African American Student Society), or SAO (Swarthmore Asian Organization). O4S has also received considerable support from members of faculty, as many have attended rallies, community forum meetings, and brought the ongoing campus discussion to their classes. For example Daniel Laurison, assistant professor of sociology, made one of his suggested topics for his foundation of sociology class campus sexual assault, Title IX, and support for survivors.

Out of the 112 of athletes who signed the statement, only 25 of those were male. There was a glaring lack of male signatures. Zero members of the men’s baseball, lacrosse, and basketball teams signed the letter. Six signed from men’s soccer. This distinct lack indicates that athletics at Swarthmore could be one of the major problems O4S might face in changing Swarthmore’s culture around Title IX reform. The varsity athletics community makes up a large portion of the population of Swarthmore College, 36% of the 1,581 students at Swarthmore to be precise.

In order to garner support from the athletic community, O4S may have to reach out and spread their message on a wider scale, especially explaining their long term goals, in order to resonate with people from the athletic department. It is also important to acknowledge that varsity athletes range in levels of involvement outside of athletics. Some athletes have been very involved in the O4S movement and activism around Title IX, and some haven’t. While Swarthmore Athletes’ Statement of Solidarity shows that a significant number of athletes do fully support the O4S movement, it seems like the athletic community is divided over the letter. Some members of the athletic community claim to agree with most, but not all of what O4S is calling for, and subsequently did not sign the letter. However, the messaging on the call to democratize the fraternity spaces have become more complicated. To many, it seemed like this was one of the main focuses of the movement, particularly following the numerous signs that appeared in Sharples, Parrish, and Kohlberg in the past couple weeks, calling for the end of fraternity housing. After going to Community Forum IV on Wednesday April 4, I learned that shutting down Greek Life is not a goal for O4S. While the movement still wants Swarthmore to eventually end the lease on fraternity housing, this is not high on their list of things they want to change in the present. The group is committed to transformative justice, and reimagining how the Title IX system works at Swarthmore all together. They also commented on how cutting the leases with the fraternities would not prevent groups from using that space for parties, including the fraternities if they reserve that space. This would turn these two houses into spaces like Paces and Olde Club. Instead of shutting down Greek life, they want to focus on a shift in school culture that prioritize the needs of survivors.  The athletic community might be more willing to support O4S, and less divided amongst itself, if they actually research the O4S demands, particularly how they’ve evolved over the last week or so. In the midst of these ongoing discussions, the athletic department have heard the complaints and issued a mandatory Sexual Violence Team Training for each team in the athletic department in the coming weeks. While this is certainly not a final solution, it is a first step towards creating a more supportive athletic community.

President Smith responds to O4S demands; is it enough?

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 CW: sexual assault

It’s been less than 10 days since Organizing for Survivors, an activist group led by eight female and non-binary students, made their public debut on the steps of Parrish Hall on March 19. Everywhere from the bulletin boards in Parrish to the Sharples banner wall has become a hotbed of demonstration and discussion among students and faculty. Posters advocating for the resignations of Dean of Students Liz Braun, Dean Nathan Miller and Associate Director for Investigations Beth Pitts as well as the abolishment of frat housing, among other demands, have been put up and taken down within the same hour. The “Swat Protects Rapists” slogan and WordPress site have made a resurgence. Over 130 students of various gender identities attended a meeting following the rally on the night of March 20, where the O4S core team and other members planned further actions. Over 15 clubs and affiliation groups have released letters of support for the demands, including Resident Assistants, the Student Government Association and a group of student athletes.

“We have been inspired and heartened by the abundance of support we’ve received from students and faculty alike and are excited to continue working with alongside all of those people,” O4s wrote in an e-mail to the Phoenix.

A week after the Parrish rally, President Valerie Smith addressed a letter to the college outlining policy changes and other responses to the O4S demands. He response to the demand that respondents (students who have had complaints filed against them) cannot serve as TAs or Residential Peer Leaders came in three parts: one, that due process requires that only students found responsible for a Title IX complaint will suffer consequences; two, that Provost Tom Stephenson will make the decision concerning TAs, as it is an academic position; and three, that “effective immediately,” a student must be in good standing with the college in order for them to apply or serve as an RPL.

O4S demanded that “Swarthmore must ensure that our right for Title IX proceedings to not exceed 60 days is protected.” However, Under Betsy DeVos’s federal guidelines, this is not a guaranteed right: “The department [of Education] says there is “no fixed time frame” under which a school must complete a Title IX investigation. The 2011 guidance stated that a “typical investigation” takes about 60 days after a complaint is made but said more complex cases could take longer,” Inside Higher Ed reported.  President Smith wrote that the administration “will strive to complete” the adjudication process in 60 days.

The preface to President Smith’s letter, which President Smith, Dean Braun, Director of Public Safety Mike Hill, Dean Miller, Pitts, and Interim Title IX Coordinator Michelle D. Ray signed, emphasized both recent changes and the need for improvement.

“During the past five years the College has implemented a robust series of changes including adding staff, enhancing programming and training, and implementing new policies,” President Smith wrote in the letter. “Despite this progress, more remains to be done, and we must continue to evaluate and reevaluate our practices based on our community members’ experiences.”

As the preface mentions, this semester marks the fifth anniversary of “The Spring of Our Discontent,” a period of intense, community-wide reckoning for the college. By May 2013, two central activists, Hope Brinn ’15 and Mia Ferguson ’15, had spearheaded efforts to file two Federal complaints for violations of Title IX and the Clery Act, adding the college to a list of institutions of higher education that received negative, national attention for their handling of sexual assault cases. Other groups actively protesting during this period included those seeking divestment from fossil fuels, marginalized students who felt unsupported in STEM classes, and LGBTQ+ students who protested homophobia and the lack of queer mentors and faculty at the college.  The period resulted in an overhaul of the college’s Title IX procedures and structure, from the establishment of the Title IX house and creation of the Title IX coordinator position to the firing of Tom Elverson. His position as advisor to the fraternities betrayed a conflict of interest in his position as a counselor for alcohol and drug use who also oversaw student misconduct, as the college’s SHARE (Sexual Harassment/ Assault Resources and Education) website states. According to O4S, the group both takes inspiration and caution from this history.

“We are very much informed by previous student activism of all types, including but not limited to the work that happened in the Spring of 2013,” O4S core members wrote in an e-mail to the Phoenix. “We continue to look back at both the successes and missteps of previous organizing efforts in order to learn how we should move forward.”

This wave of renewed activism calls into question whether the college has resolved the issues that surfaced in 2013. Many members of the community, including alumni such as Jodie Goodman ’16, who became progressively more involved in Title IX-related activism during her time at the college, believe that the college still does not do a satisfactory job of addressing sexual assault reports and complaints.

“Fundamentally, the issue remains that Swarthmore still mistreats and silences survivors,” Goodman said. “That is still at the heart of the activism.”

The changes that O4S demands are not only structural, but also involve the specific demand that Dean of Students Liz Braun, who has held her position since 2010, resign.

We demand the resignation of Dean of Students Liz Braun for her historic and ongoing unwillingness to meaningfully respond to student concerns about policy and practice, as well as her past inappropriate conduct as a participant in the adjudication of Title IX cases and other failures to protect students,” O4S wrote in their demands.

Students have criticized Dean Braun for similar issues in the past. In April 2016, the first year on which the college chose not to host a Clothesline Project event, the Daily Gazette reported that a red t-shirt was found taped to the sidewalk in front of Parrish that read, “Dean Braun is responsible for letting my rapist graduate. There is nothing else I can do but try to ignore it. Happy Sexual Assault ‘Awareness’ Month.” The Phoenix reported in October 2013 of another incident in which that was a student found responsible for sexual assault and was convicted by the Swarthmore police for attempted simple assault against a domestic partner would be permitted to return to the college  after a two-year suspension. According to the article, Dean Braun, who at that time handled Title IX appeals, denied the survivor’s request for an appeal of the decision. It is unknown whether these incidents are the same, or related.

“I think [Dean Braun] has lost the trust of Swarthmore students,” Goodman said. “She should apologize to the students she has hurt, and resign.”

Yet these issues coincide with concerns over high turnover of deans and college staff, such as the departure of the Intercultural Center Director, Dean Jason Rivera. President Smith chose to commission an external review of the Dean’s Office, which occurs every 5 to 10 years, this year. In response to O4S’s demands concerning the resignation of Dean Braun and Dean Miller, President Smith stated that she would publish the results of the external review report, but did not specify the date on which she would publish it. One finding from the external review of the college’s compliance with Title IX and Clery Act regulations that then-President Rebecca Chopp commissioned in 2013: out of 11 people then mentioned as Title IX liaisons and resources, only six still work at the college.

Adding to the intensity are concerns among students as well as within O4S about certain methods of activism. In the most recent turn of events, O4S addressed their use of posters with triggering content in a post on their WordPress site.

“We knew that our slogans could be triggering–and that sometimes, the most triggering part of them is the fact that they are true,” they wrote in the statement. “As we take responsibility and accountability, we also ask that you contextualize your critique in proportion to the structural mechanisms at play as we work through these contradictions: who is responsible for our shared frustration, and anxiety, at its core?”

And then, around 6 p.m. on Tues., March 27, O4S announced that they would be temporarily ceasing activity and refocusing their message in a community forum that night.

“We will be specifically addressing the harm caused by our organizing methods last week,” the email said, which was distributed through Swarthmore Voices’ email newsletter to students. “We believe that the best way to move forward is to focus on healing, on building trust within a network of people who have been harmed, and by centering the experiences of the most marginalized voices on campus, who are continuously ignored in the conversation on harm and violence universally. We got caught up in policy change and quick action and did not take the necessary time to reflect as a collective.”

O4S requested that press abstain from reporting on the happenings at the forum. However, they did apologize for their triggering postings multiple times, and dedicated most of the meeting to listening to community feedback. Though they have urged students outside of the group’s core leadership to pause activity temporarily, they are hosting an informational meeting for faculty and instructional staff to learn about their campaign on Friday, March 30, according to biology professor Vince Formica.

“Several faculty (myself included) passed on an invitation from O4S to the faculty and instructional staff to have an open gathering where they would answer questions about their demands and their experiences,” Formica said.

Two factors have likely driven O4S’s decision to concentrate energy on the faculty as well as alumni. Firstly, faculty and instructional staff vote during monthly meetings on potential amendments and changes to the Faculty Procedures that the Committee on Faculty Procedures, the members of which are determined by vote, chooses.

In addition, faculty and administration members have institutional memory that students’ short term on campus prevents them from having. As every class present during the spring of 2013 has graduated by now, many current students do not know what happened that semester, or the divisive environment it created on campus.

“Every week had some escalation, including the Intercultural Center being intentionally targeted by students who wanted to intimidate protesters. It’s hard to argue that literally peeing on the doorstep of your ideological opponents is not heavily symbolic and gross,” Goodman said. “Leaders of the movement to reform fraternities, like Hope Brinn and Mia Ferguson, were subjected to stalking, harassment, and violent threats on campus and online…Their testimony was alarming and upsetting to students on all sides of the issue,” Goodman said. “Campus was divided in three: those passionately for reform, those passionately against reform, and those who thought the entire thing had gotten entirely out of hand and had opinions somewhere in the middle.”

Alumni, as well, have stock in this discussion. Alumni could choose to withhold donations unless the school addresses the concern, as alumni did in the late 80s to push the administration to divest from Apartheid South Africa.

“All of the past Title IX advocates from Swarthmore that I’ve talked to are thrilled that the movement is growing and moving forward,” Goodman said.

According to O4S, they will release a public statement on their goals and mission as well as a statement on President Smith’s response to their demands in the coming days. The Phoenix will cover the faculty information session and other developments.   

Editor’s Note: The article erroneously listed the dates of the Parrish rally and the forum that followed as March 17 and 18. The dates have been amended above.   

Organizing for Survivors demands Title IX reform, resignations at Parrish rally

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Just after 12:15 p.m. on Monday, March 21, Parrish Parlors was nearly full enough to prevent foot traffic as over 100 students and faculty members congregated at the base of the central staircase leading up to the second floor. They had gathered to watch Organizing for Survivors, a group advocating for survivors of sexual violence at the college, present a list of demands concerning what they feel constitutes administrative negligence and harm. Before listing their most urgent demands, several members of the group spoke of their personal experiences with the Title IX adjudication process.

“I felt like I didn’t have the space to be triggered, to hurt like anyone else when they had been violated by someone they trusted,” one core member said. “The adjudication process made me feel inhuman. I had to turn on all of my defenses every time I walked into McCabe or Essie’s and saw him because my contact restriction did not protect me.”

Another O4S member, who feels Associate Dean of Students Nathan Miller failed to correct external adjudicator’s violations of Title IX procedure, spoke about questions she received during the process.

“It’s, ‘I know you didn’t enjoy it, but are you sure it wasn’t just a bad hookup?’ It’s ‘I know it was violent but was it rape?’ It’s ‘I know it was but was it really?’ When I think about it, it’s Dean Miller that comes to mind. Watching, listening, maybe, saying nothing. In my mind, Dean Miller, the school’s lawyer, Beth Pitts, every word, and worse, every silence — they topple over me,” she said. “The offices on this campus, the Deans, Public Safety did not protect me, before, during, or after, and more importantly, they still refuse to protect us now.”

President Valerie Smith, with whom the group had scheduled a meeting during the time of the rally, did not attend. Many in the crowd wore black in solidarity. In the full list of demands published in Voices earlier that morning, the organizers identified over 30 specific institutional changes that the college needs to make in order to better prevent and address sexual violence on campus.

O4S was founded earlier this academic year by a group of allies and survivors who wanted to bring attention to systemic inequities they had witnessed within the Title IX process. They held their first open meeting on March 4. In the following weeks, O4S core members collaborated with over 65 students to draft demands.

Though O4S is a new organization, the issues they are addressing are longstanding. O4S core members emphasized that they themselves, as well as other student activists at Swarthmore, have long advocated for the college to address its systemic mishandling of sexual assault and harassment.

For years, individually and collectively, we’ve tried to go through the proper administrative channels to advocate for change and for the protection of survivors,” one O4S core member said to the crowd. “We have been met with administrative apathy and inaction at every turn. We have been told that change can’t happen overnight. But these problems were not brought to the administration yesterday. They have had years of student activists and advocates pushing them to do the right thing, and they continue to fail us. We have been forced by their lack of meaningful response to go public, to get louder, and to formally demand what we know we and all of you deserve.”

O4S’s activism is especially relevant to the events that occurred during spring 2013, known colloquially as the “Spring of our Discontent,” brought on by increasing tensions on campus surrounding issues including Greek life and sexual assault. During that semester, several survivors brought to attention the college’s systematic mishandling of sexual violence. Swarthmore received national media attention when 12 survivors filed a Title IX complaint against the college with the Department of Education, asserting that Swarthmore had violated Title IX protections against sex discrimination. The survivors also filed a Clery Act complaint against the college for failing to report sexual assault cases.

The O4S demands include changes to Title IX policies, better support system for survivors, and stronger punishment and rehabilitation requirements for perpetrators. Notably, O4S calls for the resignation of Dean of Students Elizabeth Braun, Dean Miller, and Associate Director for Investigations Beth Pitts.

“We have identified the specific administrators who engage dishonestly and disingenuously with students, who perpetuate these practices, and who systematically prevent meaningful change,” one member said.

O4S also demands mandatory Title IX training for all students during orientation and that the college eliminate fraternity housing.

O4S went into further detail about these demands at an open meeting on Tuesday, March 20, which over 130 students attended. O4S requested that the college formally respond to each demand by the close of business on Monday, March 26. Along with complying with the demands, O4S asked for an apology from the college to survivors. The Phoenix will continue to cover this story as it develops.

Title IX: Learning About Relationships, Respect & Safety

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Despite the Healthy Sex and Relationships series having come to a close last week, the Title IX Office here at Swarthmore College still has more activities in store. According to Raven Bennett, Swarthmore’s Title IX Fellow,

“Thus far this semester, the Title IX House has hosted or collaborated on fifteen events. Five of these events were part of Training Tuesdays and ten of the events were part of the Healthy Sex and Relationships Series.”

Bennett details the brief history of the Healthy Sex and Relationships, writing that “we decided to expand the duration of the series this year to space out the events more. We felt this would both make organization easier and make it easier for students to fit attending more than one event into their schedules.” This semester, the events held were: “Me Too, You Too Postcard Writing,” “Consent in Practice” and “Relationship to Self,” “6+ Ways to Find LGBTQ+ Love, Support, and Friends,” “Consent and Self-Love Valentine Making,” “Interfaith Storytelling,” and “Speed-Dating & Speed-Friending.”

During these events, participants were encouraged to think introspectively about not only their experiences, but the experiences of others. Alex Kingsley ‘20, reflects on her experience at a Consent in the Arts workshop,

“The talk itself was really informative. Raven was really great about taking complex, scary topics and making them easier to talk about. It did show me how prevalent Title IX violations are in the arts, though, and how difficult it is to deal with them.”

Bennett writes: “We had a number of collaborators for this series including Student Health and Wellness, WRC, IC, Interfaith, and OSE. Our student teams, the Title IX Advisory Team and the Title IX Liaison Team were also integral to planning and facilitating the events that comprised the Healthy Sex and Relationships Series.”

Training Tuesdays, in themselves, are a fairly new concept at Swarthmore. “This is the second semester we are organizing Training Tuesdays. We piloted Training Tuesdays last semester to create weekly opportunities for members of the Swarthmore community to engage with topics related to healthy relationships, sexual violence prevention, and survivor support. We were very excited by the high level of student interest in the trainings last semester, which prompted us to continue the series.”

Overall, the Healthy Sex and Relationships and Training Tuesdays series are forged by a love (pun intended?) for Swarthmore students and an interest in their safety. Bennett writes,

“The hope with all of these events is that we create programming that appeals to a wide variety of interests and contributes to creating a safe and supportive campus atmosphere. I know that students can be very busy, so I always feel appreciative and grateful when students come out to our events. For those who have not had a chance to attend one of our events, I encourage you to take a look at our Training Tuesday offerings and come out to a training that appeals to you.”

Upcoming Training Tuesdays include: “Sex & Alcohol,” “Supporting Survivors,” “LGBTQI+ Sex and Dating,” “Hook-ups to Break-ups,” and “Masculinity.” They are held weekly on Tuesdays from 4 to 5 pm, in Science Center 105.

Title IX office announces policy updates, search committee for new admin

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On Feb. 7, Dean Elizabeth Braun announced changes to some of the policies and procedures the college utilizes when handling Title IX cases, based on recent student feedback. Braun also shared information about the formation of a search committee for the hirings of a new Title IX coordinator and Violence Prevention Educator and Advocate.

This news comes after Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos announced rollbacks on Title IX protections this past September. According to NBC news, these rollbacks included modifying “the standard of evidence in campus sexual assault cases.” Many advocates of sexual assault survivors believe that this new guidance would work against the accuser. However, in an email sent in September, President Valerie Smith stated that Title IX policy would remain in effect despite rollbacks.

The college’s recent changes to the existing policies regarding sexual assault cases include separate adjudication meetings for complainants and respondents, an expanded pool of external adjudicators, and a revised process for Public Safety officers to respond calls or requests for assistance related to contact restrictions. The Title IX office has regularly updated its policies each semester since its establishment in 2013.

Beyond its role in filing cases, the Title IX office is currently working to expand its role on campus through new programming, according to Lucy Jones ’20, WRC associate and Title IX liaison.

“Besides these official changes, the Title IX office is also working on improving support services and making sure that students who have experienced violence on campus are able to get the support they need, in whatever way is best for them,” Jones wrote to the Phoenix. “This includes, on one level, more campus programming from the Title IX house to increase education and spaces for support (Training Tuesdays, Me Too, You Too Postcard writing, the Healthy Sex and Relationships Initiative, etc).”

Jones believes that the larger role of the Title IX office on campus will create better modes of communication between accusers and the Title IX office, as well as improved services for students.

“There have been official changes to report policy and procedure but the office is always working on how to improve and promote support services and how to reach out to survivors in the most respectful way. This is always an ongoing process but hopefully the increased presence of the Title IX office on campus and the appointment of a new Title IX coordinator and VPE will help solidify these efforts,” she said.

For students on campus, the Title IX office remains an integral part of ensuring that students have an easier way to report sexual assault or abuse cases. The Sexual Assault Harassment Resources and Education website allows students or sexual health advocates to report cases online.

“If I hear a case, I go about reporting it through the SHARE website, either anonymously or not depending on how comfortable they feel,” sexual health advocate Mika Maenaga ’21 said. “My responsibility is to give anyone who comes to me access to the resources they need.”

According to President Smith, the college intends its Title IX policies to benefit the community as a whole in the process of addressing individual students’ needs.

“Our policies are intended to help create a community where everyone can reach their full academic and professional potential in a safe and non-hostile living, working, and learning environment,” Smith wrote in an email to the Phoenix. “When sexual misconduct does occur, we have focused our processes on providing support and options to those involved and taking the steps necessary to stop the misconduct and prevent it from happening again.  Our focus is always on what will work best to support our community members.”

The Title IX office is also in the midst of a search to replace former Title IX coordinator Kaaren Williamsen and former Violence Prevention Educator Nina Harris, who left the college during the fall semester. Both the search for the Violence Prevention Educator and the Title IX coordinator are influenced by student feedback.

Based on student feedback and needs we will be searching for someone to fill this role who has expertise counseling within a trauma-informed framework and an understanding of restorative justice in sexual violence prevention education and as a response to individual incidents of misconduct,” Director of Health and Wellness Alice Holland wrote in an email to the Phoenix. “Additional qualifications include a deep understanding of cultural and social causes of sexual and gender-based violence; deep understanding of cultural, ethnic, racial, religious, sexual, and gender diversity and the ability to lead programming sensitive to the needs of all students.”

According to Holland, the search for a new advocate will begin this month and conclude before the end of the spring semester.

Title IX: Learning About Relationships, Respect & Safety

in Campus Journal by

Despite the Healthy Sex and Relationships series having come to a close last week, the Title IX Office here at Swarthmore College still has more activities in store. According to Raven Bennett, Swarthmore’s Title IX Fellow,

“Thus far this semester, the Title IX House has hosted or collaborated on fifteen events. Five of these events were part of Training Tuesdays and ten of the events were part of the Healthy Sex and Relationships Series.”

Bennett details the brief history of the Healthy Sex and Relationships, writing that “we decided to expand the duration of the series this year to space out the events more. We felt this would both make organization easier and make it easier for students to fit attending more than one event into their schedules.” This semester, the events held were: “Me Too, You Too Postcard Writing,” “Consent in Practice” and “Relationship to Self,” “6+ Ways to Find LGBTQ+ Love, Support, and Friends,” “Consent and Self-Love Valentine Making,” “Interfaith Storytelling,” and “Speed-Dating & Speed-Friending.”

During these events, participants were encouraged to think introspectively about not only their experiences, but the experiences of others. Alex Kingsley ‘20, reflects on her experience at a Consent in the Arts workshop,

“The talk itself was really informative. Raven was really great about taking complex, scary topics and making them easier to talk about. It did show me how prevalent Title IX violations are in the arts, though, and how difficult it is to deal with them.”

Bennett writes: “We had a number of collaborators for this series including Student Health and Wellness, WRC, IC, Interfaith, and OSE. Our student teams, the Title IX Advisory Team and the Title IX Liaison Team were also integral to planning and facilitating the events that comprised the Healthy Sex and Relationships Series.”

Training Tuesdays, in themselves, are a fairly new concept at Swarthmore. “This is the second semester we are organizing Training Tuesdays. We piloted Training Tuesdays last semester to create weekly opportunities for members of the Swarthmore community to engage with topics related to healthy relationships, sexual violence prevention, and survivor support. We were very excited by the high level of student interest in the trainings last semester, which prompted us to continue the series.”

Overall, the Healthy Sex and Relationships and Training Tuesdays series are forged by a love (pun intended?) for Swarthmore students and an interest in their safety. Bennett writes,

“The hope with all of these events is that we create programming that appeals to a wide variety of interests and contributes to creating a safe and supportive campus atmosphere. I know that students can be very busy, so I always feel appreciative and grateful when students come out to our events. For those who have not had a chance to attend one of our events, I encourage you to take a look at our Training Tuesday offerings and come out to a training that appeals to you.”

Upcoming Training Tuesdays include: “Sex & Alcohol,” “Supporting Survivors,” “LGBTQI+ Sex and Dating,” “Hook-ups to Break-ups,” and “Masculinity.” They are held weekly on Tuesdays from 4 to 5 pm, in Science Center 105.

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